31 July 2020

Homily for Trinity 7 - 2020

"Things Profitable for Us"
Mark 8:1-9

Listen here.

Can you believe that unbelieving question from the disciples? Jesus wants to feed the crowd, because, after all, they’ve been hanging out with Him for three whole days, listening to His teaching on the gracious rule and reign of God. But when Jesus expresses His compassion for the crowd, the disciples respond with faithless confusion: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Now of all people, the disciples should have known better. Jesus had already fed 5,000 people from a mere five sandwich rolls and two small fish. Yet somehow the fears of the moment hid that from their hearts and minds.

In John’s Gospel, the disciples had two different worries at that earlier miraculous meal. First, they fretted over the mammoth need. Philip said: “The wages for 200 days of work—that’s just over $11,000 with our current minimum wage—would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn. 6:7). Second, they fretted over the meager resources on hand. “Andrew...said to [Jesus], ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?’” (Jn. 6:9). Yet Jesus used those meager resources to meet the mammoth need. From the five small loaves and two small fish He made a feast that fed 5000 men plus women and children and had twelve good-sized baskets of fragments left over.

You’d think the disciples would remember that. But no! Now comes a second mammoth need with meager resources. And what do the disciples ask? “How can we possibly feed all of these 4,000 people?” Remember how Jesus started this discussion: “I have compassion on the crowd.” So He takes the seven loaves and the few small fish. He blesses them. He hands them to the disciples. They, in turn, distribute them to the crowd, and everyone is satisfied. And again they have leftovers—seven good-sized baskets full.

Come to think of it, you’d think that we would know better too. After all, we have both stories, and we hear them year after year. We heard the Feeding of the 5,000 back in Lent. Now today we hear the Feeding of the 4,000. It’s almost as if Jesus is quizzing us to see if we’ll catch on and trust Him to provide for us. But we keep worrying about how we’ll make ends meet. We keep wringing our hands over our mammoth needs and our meager resources. We keep wondering and fretting over how our Lord can possibly feed us and provide for us here in this desolate place called the world.

We continually worry and fret over things like nasty viruses, power-hungry politicians, mob violence and riots in our cities, the economy, and how best to enter our stores of choice. Is the stock market trending up—like a bull—or going down—like a bear? Will our 401(k)s and our IRAs have enough in them when it’s time to retire?

Then, in our anxiety, we seek to uncover what went wrong—what government policies or what business practices—and determine whom to blame—what politicians, what businesses? And with the next presidential election just around the corner, which candidate will fix everything for us? Let’s be honest, though. None of this can truly solve our faithless confusion. None of this can soothe our troubled souls or heal our anxious cares.

That’s why we need the words and actions of our Lord Jesus. What He said to His disciples He also says to us: “I have compassion on the crowd.” Words of great promise and comfort! Then He puts those words into action by feeding the mammoth crowd of 4,000 with the meager resources of seven loaves and a few small fish. Remember, this is the same Jesus who would also promise and show His great compassion by going to the cross, by suffering and dying to free us from fears and doubts, from sin and death. This is the same Jesus who would rise from the dead on the third day to proclaim and give us His life with God, both now and into eternity. That’s His greatest compassion!

So how does that help us when we fret and worry about the mammoth needs and the meager resources? Listen again to the words we prayed in today’s Collect. We began by addressing God, “whose never-failing providence orders all things both in heaven and earth….” We may look at our nation’s economy and our personal finances, at the pandemic and the pandemonium, and think things are out of control. But our gracious God truly orders all things both in heaven and earth. Yes, our Lord and Savior Jesus is in control of all things. He does know what we need and what we endure. He does give us what we need to live and survive. That also shows His great compassion.

Then we petitioned our God who provides: “we humbly implore You to put away from us all hurtful things and to give us those things that are profitable for us.” Yes, we may classify a worldwide pandemic, chaos in the streets, economic suffering, and racial tensions as “hurtful things.” But actually there are things more hurtful to us—things such as fear, anxiety, and worry; things such as our dependence on money and stuff for meaning in life; things such as trusting our elected leaders—fellow sinners—for safety and security above our Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.

We ask God “to give us those things that are profitable for us.” He always has, He always does, and He always will. As people who trust the strong, cross-won, resurrection-given compassion of our Savior Jesus, we can receive and view most things in life as “profitable for us.” After all, times of trial, stress and upheaval may just lead us to rethink and revise our priorities. They may just cause us to realize that all the goodies of life are here today but gone tomorrow, passing away like the morning dew. They may just lead us to know more deeply that we must and can depend on our compassionate Savior to sustain us.

That’s exactly what He does, dear friends. If our Lord Jesus can feed a mammoth, hungry crowd from just a few loaves of bread and some fish, He can certainly take care of us in our daily needs. When we have Him, His life, His forgiveness, His salvation, everything else is but icing on the cake. When we have and hold dear His new life in Baptism, we see that the current uncertainties cannot take that new life away. When we have Him in His Body and Blood on the Altar, we are nourished and strengthened to persevere and endure whatever trials come our way. Without it, our faith only withers; but with it, our Lord strengthens and fortifies. In fact, when we cling to our compassionate Christ in His words and deeds, we realize that He is the chief thing that is most profitable for us. Our great, giver God has already answered our prayer. When He gives us His Son to feed us and satisfy us, He gives us exactly what we need. So, come to His Table, eat, drink and be satisfied!

Lutheran Service Book has a most fitting prayer “For the nation” (LSB, p. 313). The last line of the prayer sums it up well. There we pray: “When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail.” Prosperous times and troubled times come and go. Needs might be mammoth and resources meager. However, our Lord Jesus has compassion, and we can trust Him to give those things that are profitable for us, even when they feel most hurtful. Not only does He open His hands and satisfy the desires of every living thing, but He also satisfies us with Himself, with His mercy, forgiveness and life with Him. Amen.

20 July 2020

Homily for Trinity 6 - 2020

"God's Loving 'No' and 'Yes'"
Exodus 20:1-17 & Matthew 5:17-26

Listen here.

It takes a loving adult to tell a child, “No.” Devoted parents know this. When the toddler starts to dart out into the street, dad will sternly but lovingly yell, “No!” or “Stop!” When the little one puts something dangerous in her mouth—something dirty, something sharp, something poisonous—mama will firmly but lovingly say, “No, no.” The same applies when the child grows into the teen years and tries to experiment with cigarettes, booze, drugs, sex outside of marriage, and other harmful things. A loving adult must say, “No,” because some activities and behaviors are harmful. And a loving adult always wants what’s best for the children.

God is our loving adult, our Father, who must tell us, His human children, “No” to things that harm us. This He does in His Ten Commandments because He wants what’s best for us. God’s firm and loving “No” to things that harm us really is what’s best for us.

To say it another way, God’s commandments—each of them individually and all of them together—are like the fence around the back yard. When the children play inside the fence, they are safe and protected. Life goes well. If there’s no fence, then the children can easily wander off, stroll into the busy street and be harmed. So the curbing commandments really are a blessing from our loving Father.

Knowing God’s commandments brings another blessing. When we know them, heed them, live them, and put them to use, we have an anchor for all of life. We may just need and be able to use such a firm, solid anchor in our time of chaos, uncertainty, and upheaval. In the preface to his Large Catechism, Martin Luther said, “This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire Scriptures….” If you want to know and understand your God and His will for you and everyone around you, especially in unprecedented times, study, learn, and stay grounded in God’s commandments.

Luther then added this about those who know the Commandments: “…in all affairs and circumstances [they] are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.” (Luther, LC, Preface, 17; KW, 382). When you know God’s Ten Commandments, you are well equipped to discern what’s going on around you in this crazy, chaotic world. You are anchored to withstand the stormy seas of pandemic and pandemonium. You are made wise to resist the emotional hype and propaganda that intentionally cause so much fear and panic. You are placed on solid ground so that you may give aid to those who are aimless and adrift.

Commandments 9 and 10 erect a protective fence around God’s gift of contentment. But notice how discontent and disgruntled so many people are these days, and that same discontent and unrest infect us, God’s children reborn in Baptism. We want what God has not given and we are annoyed when we don’t get it.

Commandment 8 erects a protective fence around God’s gift of a good reputation for each and every person. But notice how speedily and how frequently reputations are smashed, trashed and cancelled, and with gleeful vehemence. Say, communicate or tweet the so-called wrong message, and let the shaming begin until the target slinks away.

In Commandment 7 God builds a protective barrier around money and possessions. But instead of helping to improve and protect our neighbor’s possessions and income—including statues and store fronts—we witness looting, vandalizing, pillaging and taking what rightly belongs to others.

Commandment 6 is God’s way of protecting the gift of marriage between one man and one woman and the family that comes from that union. Confusion about this and disregard for it in recent years have brought much angst and pain, in the Church as well as in the culture.

The Fifth Commandment, which Jesus highlights in our Gospel reading, protects God’s gift of human physical life. In it God also “wants to remove the root and source by which the heart is embittered against our neighbor” (LC I:186). Think of the anger so evident in the rioting and attacks we now see on a daily basis. Think of the bitterness that leads to treating fellow human beings differently based on nothing but skin color, whichever direction it goes. Think of the suspicion and even vitriol that flows between those who want to wear masks and those who don’t.

In the Fourth Commandment, our Father gives us parents and other authorities as gifts. Parenthood, of course, has the highest place, and other authorities flow from that high office. Yet we also know that sinners occupy these positions of authority. We want and need to honor them, serve and obey them, but it’s quite difficult due to their imperfections and failings, especially when their actions or inactions lead to and even foster the fear and chaos.

Here’s why we need the first three Commandments. Without them the protective fence is rickety and wobbly at best. In our current time, it’s why the fence has collapsed altogether. When the bases, posts, and rails of the first three commandments are removed, it’s no wonder the pickets, or slats, of the other commandments cannot stand upright.

We need to treasure and gladly hear God’s Word and receive His Sacraments. We need to call on His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. And, most of all, we need to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. It’s obvious the culture at large knows none of this. What about you?

Do you fear COVID-19, the violent riots, or the downward spiral of our culture more than God? Do you trust science or a promised vaccine more than God? Do you love yourself more than your fellow human being? The answer, of course, is “Yes.” So it’s time to repent of our idolatry, our fears, and our misplaced trust for safety and security. Your righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, but thanks to the mirror of God’s Law you know it does not.

And so it’s also time to take comfort in God’s “Yes” spoken and achieved through His Son Jesus. He came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them in your place and for your benefit. He submitted Himself to governing authorities and laid down His own life for you. Even as His reputation was trashed, He was content to accomplish your forgiveness and salvation on the cross. And in His resurrection He gives you His new life—new life to consider yourself dead to sin, new life that is alive to God in Christ Jesus, new life that happily and joyfully lives within the fence of God’s care and keeping. In Jesus—and only in Jesus—your righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Since you have been buried with Jesus by baptism into death, your shortcomings and failings are washed away. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, you too may now walk in newness of life. You may fear, love and trust in Him above all things, including viruses, vaccines and violence. You may call upon Him in all trouble, pray and give thanks for His eternal care and keeping. You may gladly hear and learn His Word and receive His Body and Blood that truly sustain and comfort in all circumstances.

In addition, you may truly love your neighbor, your fellow sinner, just as Jesus does. You may honor your authorities even as you evaluate and sometimes must critique their decrees. You may stand up for the life of every human being, regardless of age, skin color, or station in life. You may live chastely. You may protect possessions and income. You may safeguard reputations. You may live with contentment in all things.

By doing so, you will quite naturally stand out in this world marred by chaos and insecurity. Those who wander aimlessly and who are lost in their fear will notice. Then you will have the grand opportunity to welcome them into God’s “backyard,” into the genuine safety, the only true safety, of His salvation and life with Him in His Church. Amen.

05 July 2020

Homily for Trinity 4 - 2020

"Reflecting God's Mercy"
Luke 6:36-42

Listen here.

Martin Chemnitz, “the second Martin,” once said: “Good works are like the sun: It’s nature is to give light; you don’t have to command it to do so.” It’s what Jesus does for you, and it’s how He calls you live and practice mercy with one another. It’s why Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” It’s like the relationship of the sun and the moon. The sun is the source of light and abundantly radiates that light. The moon also gives light, but that light is not its own. The moon simply reflects the light it receives from the sun. God is the source of mercy and gives abundant mercy through His Son Jesus. His Christians also show mercy as they reflect the mercy that they receive from God Himself. “Jesus’ disciples are to be characterized by mercy and forgiveness and thus portray God’s character to the world.” (Just, 295)

The first thing Jesus says to you today is: “Imitate your heavenly Father.” Children love to imitate their parents. They dress up in Mom and Dad’s clothes. They carry around a purse like Mom’s or a tool like Dad’s. Remember this when you hear Jesus say, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” First, comes the Father’s mercy, then comes the Christian’s mercy as he/she imitates Papa in heaven. And in the Bible “mercy” is more than attitude or emotion. “Mercy” shows itself in concrete actions.

The Father shows His mercy in the concrete act of sending His own Son Jesus into this broken, fallen, messy, sick, chaotic world to rescue and redeem sinners such as us. Christians then, enlivened by the Holy Spirit through Gospel preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and Lord’s Supper, show mercy in many and various concrete actions of daily life.

But you and I like to pretend that we are something we’re not. We like to think that we are above other people. We choose to treat them in whatever way we want. That’s not being merciful! When you “have issues” with other people—in your family, at work, or in the Church—it’s usually because they are not saying or doing things that you prescribe or demand. This leads to the judging and condemning that Jesus warns against. When you judge or condemn, you’re not imitating God’s mercy; you’re trying to play God.

Yet God still shows mercy to people like us. He shows His mercy in the very concrete act of sending His Son Jesus to take on our human flesh and blood, live our life, die in our place on a bloody cross, rest in the tomb, and rise again on the third day. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God forgives you and gives you new life.

So you get to imitate your heavenly Father. You get to interact with people—especially fellow Christians—in their chaotic, messed up lives and in their viral infection of self-serving. You get to show mercy and forgiveness. St. Paul said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). St. John said, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

The second thing Jesus says to you today is: “What you dish out, you get back.” Jesus gives some practical examples: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”

Now this is probably one of the most misquoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible. We live in a time when tolerance is king; we are to judge absolutely nothing, no matter how raunchy, perverted, or misleading it gets. We are told to tolerate everything from killing babies in the womb to so-called “marriages” that cannot possibly bear children without outside help. To 21st century American ears and mouths “tolerate” has come to mean “approve of,” “bless,” even “kneel down and grovel.” We Christians are told that whenever we talk of Jesus as the only Savior from sin and the only way to life with God, we are being “intolerant” and “judgmental.” When we Christians stand for God’s ways of protecting life and marriage in the public square, we are told to hush up and “be tolerant.” When we reopen our churches to gather for hearing God’s Word, singing His praises, and receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood as we have for centuries, we are told that we are “killing grandma.”

But even Jesus warned against false teachers and their infectious teachings. And St. Paul warned against those who would give you another “gospel” that’s not focused on Christ alone for forgiveness and life. And St. John gave this judgment: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:3).

What’s Jesus talking about? Well, He’s not talking about legitimate, moral decisions in a court of law. After all, He gives the governing and judicial authorities. Instead, Jesus is talking about those frequent, petty criticisms that happen any time sinners get together. She really made me mad with her negative comments. His attitude really offended me. And so on.

Jesus is not talking about judging doctrine and life. Jesus does want us to judge doctrine and confront sin. He wants us to make sure that His Church teaches His pure Word in all that it says. But He does not want us to make judgments or condemnations about doctrine and life without substantial evidence. Jesus says don’t judge or condemn based on your own personal standards, or based on the world’s standards, or based on a misunderstanding of God’s Word. Instead, let God’s judgments be yours. When God says something is wrong and sinful—say, murder, abortion, racism, adultery, homosexuality, theft, cheating, lying, gossip, slander, coveting, and discontent—then you may also say it’s wrong. When God says something is true, good, and beautiful—say, loving Him, serving your neighbor in need, defending the defenseless, treating all people as human regardless of skin color, protecting marriage, remaining pure before marriage, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting reputations—then you may also make the same good judgment.

Instead of being characterized by judging and condemning, Jesus wants you, His forgiven children, to be known by forgiveness and giving. After all, Jesus let Himself be judged and condemned in your place, in order that you may be forgiven and be given His life.

So Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” As you dish it out, it will come back to you. If you judge, condemn and criticize, then you can expect to be judged, condemned and criticized…perhaps by other people, but especially by God. When you forgive and give, though—when you love your neighbor—then God will continue to forgive and give. St. Paul said it well: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

And the final thing Jesus says to you today: “Clear out your vision to help your neighbor.” Jesus tells a little parable. A friend of yours gets a speck of sawdust in his eye. But you have a 6 foot long 4x4 beam sticking out of yours. How can you say, “Here let me help you,” when you can’t even see your own problem? Jesus exaggerates to make a point: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Translation: Yes, your neighbor has sins. But before you deal with your neighbor’s sins, confess your own. Once you rest in Jesus’ forgiveness for your humongous sins, then you can help your neighbor with his itty-bitty sins that may vex you. In order to show mercy, you need to receive Jesus’ mercy. And that’s what you get to do every Sunday in the Divine Service. You confess your sins—not your neighbor’s sins—and you receive Jesus’ forgiveness. You hear His Word and His works of mercy read and proclaimed. Jesus heals you by His words and works, and He removes the 4x4 beams from your eyes.

After you receive God’s mercy in Christ, you get to sing and pray for God’s mercy for each other, for the Church, and for the world. “Lord, have mercy.” “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” And today we hear the story of Joseph to illustrate what Jesus says. Joseph suffered greatly because of his brothers’ evil deeds. But he did not hold those sins against them. He chose not to play God. Instead, he imitated God—he reflected God’s mercy—by forgiving and showing mercy to his brothers. As Joseph said, “God meant it for good…that many people should be kept alive.”

Yes, there are times when you need to point out the sins of other people. Don’t do it to judge or condemn. Instead, do it to bring your relative or friend or fellow Christian into Christ’s mercy. After all, we don’t want our friends or family—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ—to live and die in their sin. We want them to rest and relax in Jesus’ cross-won, Gospel-given mercy. You can be merciful, because in Jesus your Father is merciful to you. Amen.